Baghdad Without a Map and Other Misadventures in Arabia

by Tony Horwitz

Paperback, 1992




Plume (1992), 304 pages


With razor-sharp wit and insight, intrepid journalist Tony Horwitz gets beyond solemn newspaper headlines and romantic myths of Arabia to offer startling close-ups of a volatile region few Westerners understand. His quest for hot stories takes him from the tribal wilds of Yemen to the shell-pocked shores of Lebanon; from the malarial sands of the Sudan to the eerie souks of Saddam Hussein's Iraq, a land so secretive that even street maps and weather reports are banned. At an oasis in the Empty Quarter, a veiled woman offers tea and a mysterious declaration of love. In Cairo, "politeness police" patrol seedy nightclubs to ensure that belly dancers don't show any belly. And at the Ayatollah's funeral in Tehran a mourner chants, "Death to America," then confesses to the author his secret dream -- to visit Disneyland. Careening through thirteen Muslim countries and Israel, Horwitz travels light, packing a keen eye, a wicked sense of humor, and chutzpah in almost suicidal measure. This wild and comic tale of Middle East misadventure reveals a fascinating world in which the ancient and the modern collide. -- Back cover.… (more)

Media reviews

Indeed, nothing was forever happening to him. Much of the book describes the long hours he spent curled up at airports or waiting to interview some third-level government official who was unlikely to tell him anything, anyway. Not that this makes for dull reading. The waiting gave Mr. Horwitz the time to contemplate the absurdity of the situation he happened to be in.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Othemts
This is the third travel journalism book I've read by Tony Horwitz, the earliest he's written of the three I've read, and one that puts him over the top as one of the most talented writers of our time. The book details travels during two years of living in the Middle East. Bravely or foolhardily (jusqu'au boutiste - "It mean you are very brave. And maybe very stupid."), Horwitz travels into some of the most dangerous places, somehow finding locals to speak with and finding a great deal of hospitality. There are some powerful scenes such as walking through the trenches on the Iraq / Iran frontier with a pack of bloodthirsty journalists, helping a woman clean leper's wounds in Sudan, a bizarre staged press conference by Colonel Qadaffi, and a secret cocktail party with wealthier Iranians. A lot of the book takes on new meaning in light of recent events, especially the final paragraph where he hopes to see a celebration in Baghdad when the country is liberated from Saddam Hussein. Sadly, I can't find any current commentary online for Horwitz's view on how that actually happened.

On Yemeni qat:

"I think Americans like drugs that hit fast and hard and then wear off, such as whiskey and cocaine," he said. "They could never get used to something that makes you sit around all afternoon doing nothing." -p.17

"I was to spend a lot of time nodding gravely as bile poured from both Palestinians and Israelis. It was easier than explaining that I thought they were both right, or both wrong. I wasn't sure which." - p. 136

"Khomeini, for all his fanaticism, hadn't abused power to enrich himself or advance his family. But the guests' grudging respect for the imam had another source. They felt the same pride as other Iranians when Khomeini thumbed his nose at the rest of the world." p. 246-7
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LibraryThing member DoraBadollet
There were parts of Horwitz's work that were absolutely absorbing, and other chapters that I found myself skimming through. It was interesting to read his perspective on and experience in war-torn Iraq (this is years before all of the press and attention it now receives) and his days spent experimenting with quat... Overall, a worthwhile, entertaining read--though not overtly impressive or memorable. (Claire)… (more)
LibraryThing member hjsesq
Great book - sorry I did not read it before a recent trip to Egypt and Israel. Gives insight to the people of the countries where Horwitz traveled as well as why some of the problems the world has exist today
LibraryThing member allthesedarnbooks
This is the second Tony Horwitz book I've read, after Confederates in the Attic, which was so great that I was worried I'd be disappointed if this one didn't live up to that high standard. I needn't have worried! Horwitz travels through the Middle East and he treats the people he meets with the same dignity, respect, and occasional humor that he treats Southerners with in Confederates. Although the book was publish in 1991, and much of it takes place in the late 1980s, and some of the landscape and politics of the region has changed, what's striking is what hasn't changed. Horwitz has a gift for capturing the spirit of everyday lives and the contradictions inherent in people's personalities and beliefs. An absorbing, intelligent, enjoyable read that I'd highly recommend. Four and a half stars.… (more)
LibraryThing member montano
Tony Horwitz is a consistently entertaining travel writer. This book was written before the first Gulf War so it is an interesting look at the Iraq before Americans had developed any opinion about it. His time in Yemen chewing quat still makes me laugh.
LibraryThing member amyblue
This is a great travelogue, very funny and enlightening about the middle east. Its companion volume Nine Parts of Desire by his wife Geraldine Brooks about her voyages in the same area but with women. Nine Parts of Desire is much more serious, however.
LibraryThing member cheriscott
Hilarious account of a Jewish reporter with minimal knowledge of the area and his experiences. All I can say is - a must read for anyone who wants a break from hearing of the violence in the Middle East. The Chapter on Yemen is one not to be missed!!
LibraryThing member snash
The book offers a picture of the Mid-East in the late 1980's. While describing his travels he provides insight on the contradictions and dilemmas of the ordinary people he runs across. He writes with humor, respect, and compassion. Thank goodness he did so since I nor few others could travel fearlessly enough to have the experiences he did.… (more)
LibraryThing member OregonKimm
I first began reading Baghdad Without a Map well over a year ago. For some reason, I ended up setting the book down with about a quarter of it left to read. Not really sure why I did that and for the longest time, I was convinced that the book was a bad read and I wasn’t able to finish it. Thus, it sat neglected on my TO FINISH shelf until the last read-a-thon came long [book bloggers readathon:]. I was determined to get that book off my back once and for all.

Having said all that….consider my surprise when I picked it up again and found myself once again enjoying the stories hidden inside!

Baghdad Without a Map was written right up to the beginning of the first war in Iraq. Without a doubt, it’s an interesting perspective on how Tony Horwitz saw the Middle East before it changed into how we know/see it today. Over the past few years, I’ve developed an interest in books focusing on the Middle East/Asia regions, particularly now that they have figured so profoundly in all of our lives here in the US.

Horwitz is very descriptive of his encounters in a variety of situations. I felt like he led me through each country on a roller coaster ride, holding my breath that he would come out unscathed in each adventure. To have the opportunity to have lived such a life! I’m terribly envious of him!! Also very wistful that I will probably never get the chance (given current events –can we say safety?) to see this part of the world as he was able to see it.

If you enjoy travel adventure, I would certainly suggest giving this book a try. Even though it now stands somewhat dated, there is more than enough there to still identify with.
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LibraryThing member benjaminorbach
Laugh out loud funny.
LibraryThing member themythicalcodfish
While the prose is considerably less polished than his later books, "Baghdad" is still an excellent piece of travel literature from Tony Horwitz. A great deal of the appeal of his writing is how he refuses to gloss over any part of his experience, instead presenting it with as little bias as possible in a classic and readable journalistic fashion. If you want to read or study anything about the current Arab world, especially the Arab Spring and continued aftermath, I'd strongly advise reading this book as background.… (more)
LibraryThing member hickmanmc
Reviewed by Mrs. Jouret
Personal reflections of Pultizer Prize winning reporter Tony Horowitz which provide an interesting and humerous, entertaining and educational look at the Middle East from a nonpolitical point of view.
LibraryThing member TheWasp
Tony Horwitz reports on life in the middle east in the 1990's. Life is hard and dangerous, yet he still manages to find the funny side of most situations. A very informative and entertaining read.


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